St Bridger's, West Kirby (Exterior)

St Bridget's, West Kirby, Wirral, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Bridget's
Location: West Kirby, Wirral, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 October 2011, 10:00am

The building

St Bridget's stands in a picturesque leafy setting, with a lych gate that leads into the well kept churchyard. This mellow sandstone parish church, a site of worship for over 1000 years, is now mainly 14th, 15th and 16th century masonry and window tracery, though much was restored in 1869/1870. The 16th century tower houses a peal of eight bells, four of them being over 200 years old. The porch has black and white painted timbers, typical of many other buildings in Cheshire. The chancel is almost as big as the nave, and is separated from the main body of the church by decorated, wrought-iron screens. There is much work by Charles Kempe, the noted Victorian stained glass artisan. The windows alone span most of Kempe's career, from 1870 to 1907. St Bridget is depicted in one of the many windows. Also the painted and stenciled work above the chancel arch is to Kempe's designs, though the wooden figures may have been carved in Oberammergau. The Dawson-Brown Museum is housed in the old school room and contains interesting artifacts of local interest.

The church

They maintain strong ties with local community. The primary school adjacent to the church serves the area. The parish hall is kept busy with many events and is currently being rebuilt. The pretty setting makes it a popular venue for the many weddings that take place here. Activities are listed in the parish magazine (a good buy at 30p) and include youth group, sewing group and book discussion group.

The neighborhood

The Vikings settled in the area, coming in from Ireland in the 10th century. Other village names nearby end in the Norse "-by" (Frankby, Irby, Pensby). Viking stones have been found, especially a famous hogback stone that was possibly used as a gravestone or door lintel. (The term "hogback" refers to the curving top of the stone.) The Ring o' Bells hostelry close by is reputed to have been used by smugglers, and a bricked-up tunnel is said to link with the nearby manor farm. Staff at the Ring o' Bells have felt the ghostly presence of a long-dead innkeeper, killed when the cellar door crashed down on him, who haunts on winters nights when the wind rattles round the windows and causes the inn sign to swing and creak. The whole area has recently come under the spotlight of historians thanks to its Viking past.

The cast

The Revd John Bleazard, their newly called rector, was the celebrant and preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Communion with Baptism (of baby Isaac).

How full was the building?

Largely full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A smiling sidesman said hello and handed me a hymn book and a parish notice sheet for the week ahead. There were two service leaflets as well: All-Age Communion and Baptism During Morning Worship.

Was your pew comfortable?

Fairly comfy pew of the long variety, with a carpet pew runner. Decorated tapestry hassocks with a little hook for hanging. Ledge for hymn book.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

On approaching the church, I heard the bells peal a welcoming sound. However, on entering, I noticed a good deal of chatter and a general hubbub. The bells ceased at five before the hour and the organ took over, though the volume was too loud for me to meditate properly. The chatter continued.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome to St Bridget's on this All Saints Day!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Service sheets; Complete Anglican Hymns, Old and New; The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ. A robed choir of six led the singing.

Did anything distract you?

A small child with the baptism party let everyone know he was there! He was taken outside for a while. When he returned, he seemed much quieter.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Middle-of-the-road C of E with vestments, white for All Saints. Reserved sacrament in the Lady chapel, where mid-week communion and daily offices are said. I'd say they are half way up the candle. The rector gave us all a good splashing with holy water as we sang the Taize chant Ubi caritas et amor quietly after the baptism: "Where charity and love are, there is God." Smiles all around! But trying to compress two sacramental services into one did not work for me. The worship seemed rather hollow.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

3 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

6 – The rector preached without notes; his delivery was rather tedious and repetitive.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Two thousand years ago, and two thousand miles away, Jesus' disciples and the crowds of people who had heard Jesus preaching had their doubts, yet they still had faith. And its that mixture of doubt and faith that, down the ages, has characterised the saints. We are here today, like the saints of old, with our faith and our doubts, about to pass on that story of Jesus to young Isaac, the baptism candidate. We want him to be part of the story of Jesus today, a story that is now worldwide and not two thousand miles away.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The splendid Kempe stained glass all around the church and the painted scenes over the chancel arch were a real joy to behold; a kaleidoscope of colours.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Perhaps it was the yells of the small child that distracted me more than usual, but I could not find nor feel much real spirituality that morning. Even during the peace, while many smiles were exchanged, I found the people wandering around too much. And I am usually a tolerant individual.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The couple next to me were visitors too, so we smiled and started a conversation as the organist played the postlude.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No mention had been made of refreshments, though a table had been set up. We drifted over and had fairly traded tea or coffee or orange squash. There were biscuits from a big tin of assorteds and a saucer for donations. Drinks were hot and tasted OK. Another baptism service was to follow shortly, so I drank up quickly and departed, making my way towards the Ring o' Bells to sample spirits of a different nature.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

5 – Perhaps if I visited on an ordinary occasion, without baptism and without another service to follow immediately afterward, I might feel there was a more agreeable atmosphere.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Not especially.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The wealth of stained glass.

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